Moving into the Light – Is Li-fi the new Wi-fi?

The dark ages of dial up may only be a decade away but the world of online technology moves fast – lightning fast to be precise. Wi-fi users in the UK are currently able to enjoy average speeds of 14.7Mbit/s and with the advent of fibre optic broadband speeds of up to 100Mbit/s are becoming increasingly more commonplace. But, this is no more than digital cruising when compared to Professor Harald Haas’ li-fi.

The Professor of Mobile Communications at the University of Edinburgh is currently developing the possibilities of transferring wireless data using the light spectrum with standard LED bulbs. Professor Haas’ theory works upon the idea of using visible light to transfer wireless data instead of the historical method of using radio waves. Light waves allow 10,000 times more space than radio waves and therefore could provide a faster service than even the fastest wi-fi broadband speeds currently being achieved though existing consumer suppliers.

Li-fi the new Wi-fi


Last week UK researchers produced the fastest li-fi speed yet using just one micro-LED bulb. The joint venture by the Universities of Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge, St Andrews and Strathclyde successfully sent 3.5Gbit/s (3584Mbit/s) across every one of the primary colours. Combining the three primaries in to white light could potentially lead to transfer speeds of 10.5Gbit/s (10752 Mbit/s) in total.

The UK is leading the way in the research into superfast data and developments such as this are significant. Dana Tobak, Managing Director of Hyperoptic welcomed the latest research:

New ways of extending fibre connectivity speeds into ‘any-fi’ are very exciting.  Despite our offering 1 gigabit to the home, many customers struggle to get the speeds they want on their mobile devices because of the inherent issues in wi-fi technology today. In the end, there will be many solutions whose usage will depend on the context and their operating properties.”

The future of li-fi data transfer is bright – experts predict that it would be cheaper to use and more energy efficient than radio waves.  Additionally, the necessary lighting infrastructure is already in place. Research is certainly still on going and we shouldn’t expect to see li-fi in our homes anytime soon. There are still aspects which will obviously need further development: most notably, the fact that unlike radio waves, light cannot transfer through walls. Although this does mean that it would be more difficult for hackers to breach security, it does mean that LED transmitters would need to be positioned strategically within a building to allow access. Fused7 are working with Hyperoptic to help with the marketing roll out of their unique 1 gigabit hyperfast consumer broadband product which will go a long way to bridging the gap between existing Fibreoptic speeds and the 3 gigabit+ speeds that are pioneering the approach to data transfer. Hyperoptic is passionate about delivering the very best possible broadband speeds to its customers and their existing Fibreoptic speed will go a long way towards bridging the gap between standard broadband capacity and the 3gigabit+ speeds that have been seen using this pioneering approach to data transfer.

The research forms part of the UP-VLC project – the Ultra Parallel Visible Light Communications project – which will run until September 2016. Light transfer of data is being researched around the world, with scientists in Germany, the UK and China all aiming to produce the fastest transmission speeds. Earlier this year, the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute in Germany achieved throughput rates of as much as 3Gbit/s in their laboratories. The possibility of light data transfer was only mooted in 2008 so it is remarkable to think how far the theory has progressed. Is li-fi the future of wireless data transfer? Perhaps. It is too early to say with real certainty but the future is certainly superfast internet.

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1 Comment

  1. Terry Jett says:

    Way cool article and information.

    Sadly us folks in the USA will not see anything like this for years. Most likely our goverment will have to spend $1bil for a feasibility study, lol.

    Thanks for the eye opening article.